3 Tips for Cutting Down Your Paper

Many times, I receive a draft form with some sort of instructions to aid in cutting the paper down. Many times still, the student notifies me that they have exhaustively and repeatedly scanned their document, looking for those dispensable components. Now, while we do agree that you should seek out another set of eyes (ours!) for this endeavor, here are some common oversights that I notice in papers.

1. Too Many Dependent Clauses

Dependent clauses are deceptive. They convince you with ample persuasion that you need them in your paper. A dependent clause are those "sentences" (they are not really sentences, but I use this word for the sake of instruction) that cannot stand alone. Usually, you can spot them in your paper through the words "which," "that," and through commas. The way most of us use them is to further unpack nouns (including ideas). Here are some examples; dependent clauses are in italics.

The computer which someone gave me last week, . . .

Paul's theology, centered on the kingdom of God, . . .

The Stelae that Albright excavated in the early 1900's . . .

Get it? While the information in these clauses are certainly accurate, they are non-obligatory. Also, the more dependent clauses you have describing one noun, the harder it gets to follow your sentences. So keep your eyes out for "which," "that," and commas in your paper.

2. The Preposition Train

This is technically identical to number 1 above, but I think highlighting it separately would be beneficial. To be sure, I am stealing this terminology from our Sanity Saver. If the sound of that perks your interest, email one us and we will get it to you! Prepositions are little words that describe spacial (physical an metaphorical) relationships: on, under, above, around, into, out of, etc. One of these words plus a clause equals a prepositional phrase. I am SHOCKED at how many series of prepositional phrases I find in my own writing when I go back over it. To illustrate, let's take an above example on preposition train-ride:

The Stelae that Albright excavated IN the early 1900's AROUND the Sinai Peninsula FROM Sherabit al-Khadim WITHIN the temple of Hathor . . .

Yikes! The train has left the station! Look out for these words and use them sparingly.

3. The Subject-Verb Love Story

Subjects and verbs love each other. If you separate them, they will get angry at you, and so will your editor :). Points 1 and 2 are often the culprits which uncouples your subject and verb. All things being equal, the closer your subject and verb, the clearer sentence. Again, let's take an above example and disjoin the lovesick couple.

Paul's theology (subject), which is centered on the Kingdom of God as Luke indicates in Acts 28:31, as well as debated throughout the centuries with respect to its origins by the likes of Ridderboss, Gaffin, and, more recently, N.T. Wright in his book Paul and the Faithfulness of God, echoes (verb) Jesus' teaching.

I know, this is an extreme example. But seriously, it's not; I have personally witnessed sentences like this. The experience was horrifying.

Hopefully you find these tips helpful! Please, leave any questions in the comments below! Keep it constructive, please.